Board of Education supports updates to LEAD the Way program

Board members update LEAD the Way program to educate on substance abuse and SEL practices for fifth-graders. (Courtesy of

Board members update LEAD the Way program to educate on substance abuse and SEL practices for fifth-graders. (Courtesy of

By Lauren Courtney

On the evening of Sept. 16, the Board of Education held one of its monthly meetings to discuss the progression and updates to LEAD the Way, a program that teaches fifth-grade students positive decision-making skills and how to be assertive while building self-confidence. The presentation, led by school resource officers Ryan Gregorio, Sarah Barham, and Andrew Dykstra, gave a detailed overview of where the project is, how it has progressed, what they have added to the program, and plans for the future.

The aim of the program is to prepare fifth-grade students for the challenges, issues, and situations that they may face in middle school. The program features 45-minute lesson plans over nine weeks with nine units that would occur during second semester. Contrary to the DARE program, LEAD the Way is community-specific and will focus on issues more common in local areas within the school district.

“The issues that we are seeing in our community–that our teachers are bringing to our attention or our students are bringing to our attention–we can pull that information and tailor our lessons specifically to help them [students] to succeed in the classroom and outside of the classroom,” Barham said.

The program’s units have been altered for this school year to make room for current, updated, and important topics. Some updates include a lesson on dangerous trends, a new unit on healthy relationships, and combining the vaping, tobacco, and marijuana lessons. The lessons are kept up to date with more major issues in the community. Statistics and information used in the lessons will be from the CDC, McHenry County Department of Health, or Kane County Department of Health.

“We can gear [the program] more specifically to be community-based. By going and speaking to the McHenry County Department of Health and the Kane County Department of Health…we could reflect not nationwide statistics, but statistics right here at home,” Gregorio said.

The program also helps to promote social-emotional learning in students, as lessons are interactive and can be applied to day-to-day life. The students will work in groups, with the officers, and even with parents at home by discussing the workbooks that they will be filling out. Some of the lessons, like the tobacco, vaping, and marijuana unit, specifically look at and work on SEL.

“I think it’s great…because it’s all about SEL… we know that students see those types of things, but the issues that we’re running into with the schools is a lot of that social-emotional learning,” Dykstra said.

In the future, the program aims to include Huntley High School students to help provide a positive influence for the fifth-graders. HHS students would help with interactive activities, videos and even showcase their own talents.

“Using our high schoolers–which is already done with our summer forums through the Huntley Police Department–the high schoolers get involved and then it really connects with the kids too,” Dykstra said.

After the presentation, Gregorio also announced the arrival of a new school resource officer, who will be starting their job shadow in November, and taking over Gregorio’s position in January at the Harmony Road Campus.

Public comments then ensued, where Executive Director of the Illinois Principals Association, Dr. Jason Leahy, presented Principal Marcus Belin with his President’s Ring for being the president-elect.

The meeting was suspended at 8:10 p.m. after a few parents shared their comments and concerns about current actions in the school district.